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Hillyard punched away the remaining broken bricks and emerged into the scrubland above. They were now on the other side of the volcano, only a mile or so from the coast. He reached down and helped the others emerge from the hole. There was a rumbling noise in the distance, like thunder, which worried him.
"The ground's shaking", said Adam "What the hell's happening, is it an earthquake?"
"Please, you must hurry!" Isaac ran out from behind a large rock nearby, still clutching his flare pistol in his hand like a talisman "Or we'll all be destroyed".
"Isaac? What's going on?" said Adam "Where are the rest of you?"
"They're dead", Isaac's eyes filed with tears, and he began to sob wretchedly "All dead. We had decided to make for the coast. Gabriel has a sail-boat at anchor nearby, keeps it for his Ministry friends as a treat when they stay here sometimes. We thought it would be our best chance of escape".
"So what went wrong?" said Ransey, almost with resignation.
"I was running on ahead, because I was the one that was armed, clearing the way as it were, w-when this fissure cracked open in the ground, like an earthquake. They were all swallowed whole! And then it closed up again. There's no trace of them left! It's as if they never existed", Isaac broke down and cried.
"Alright, you have to calm down", Adam took the flare pistol off him for safekeeping "Can you take us to this sail-boat?"
Isaac nodded weakly.
"All that accounts for the rumbling", said Hillyard, nervously "We'd better hurry, these fissures can crack open anywhere. We have to try and stay ahead of them".
"This is Gabriel's doing", said Ransey "He once boasted to me that he had the power to raise storms, to cause darkness at noon as he put it. I didn't believe him, but it looks as though he's giving us the works now and no mistake".
Lightning forked across the blackened sky, tearing a cactus plant down the middle and turning it into fire. The ground was convulsing beneath them.
"For God's sake hurry!" Adam yelled, spurring the others to run "Hillyard, take Joby on your back. He'll never make it otherwise".
They ran for their lives, the ground shaking beneath them all the while like a temperamental animal trying to buck them off its back. Fires erupted all along the route, where lightning hit objects with a speed and an unnerving accuracy that nature could never have achieved. Rain began to pelt down, blinding their view.
"He knows how to give us a show", Hillyard shouted, splashing through the mud with Joby sitting on his back.
"Oh just shut up and drive, Hillyard!" Joby yelled back.
The ground was cracking all over the place, and beginning to show large craters which were almost impossible to see clearly through the rain. Each and everyone of them nearly wept with hysteria when they finally came within sight of Gabriel's yacht, moored next to a wooden jetty directly ahead. The sea was swirling like a cauldron, sending up huge waves over the jetty, but on the whole it was still a safer prospect than staying on land.
They hit the jetty en-masse and stampeded across the wooden planks. Ransey reached the yacht first, and wasted no time by unwinding the rope from its mooring-post. He was distracted somewhat by Kieran getting swept into the water by a large wave. Ransey tossed him a life-belt and then hauled him up onto the deck.
"I bet I've caught bigger fish than you", he said, and began to pump water out of him.
Isaac was the only one of the group with any sailing knowledge, having been on yachting holidays prior to joining the Union. Steering the boat away from Gabriel's storm and into calmer waters helped at least to temporarily distract him from his own immense grief. They eventually escaped what appeared to be the boundaries of Gabriel's supernatural jurisdiction, and sailed into a wholly natural fog-bank out on the high seas. Isaac cut the engine and let the boat simply drift for a while, arguing that it was no use wasting juice when they had no idea where they were going.
The boat was well-equipped, and the living quarters, consisting of one general sleeping and dining area, were comfortable. Adam went down into the hold with Ransey, where the galley and stores were contained.
"I'll do a full inventory after I've had some kip", said Ransey "But at first glance it looks like we'll be alright for a while. It's more important, I think anyway, that we just stay out of Gabriel's way for the time being".
"Do you think he'll come after us?"
"I'm hoping he won't. But no one can predict what he gets up to. As we've run off with his sail-boat he'll doubtless realise we're still alive, which is unfortunate. After all, it would suit us if he believed we'd gone down a fissure with Isaac's friends. But there's a great deal of ocean on this planet. If we try hard enough we can lose ourselves on it".
"And then Gabriel's won", said Adam "Nothing whatsoever to get in the way of what he wants".
"I know that's how it seems at the moment", said Ransey "But take it from me, just be glad you're alive for the time being".
"I am", said Adam "I am".
The following day dawned with a brilliance of sunshine that seemed completely incongruous after the storms and fogs of before. The sun sparkled on the deep blue waters, there wasn't a sign of any land whatsoever on the horizon, and they suddenly felt safe from the long reach of Gabriel's power. They had no idea that the President was dead, or that Kieran was now rightfully in charge, or that Gabriel was at that moment preparing to fly to the City to seize the reins of office for himself. It was doubtful if they would have cared if they had possessed this knowledge. They were still alive and, as Ransey had so rightly pointed out, that was all that mattered at this time.
Hillyard sat up on the roof of the cabin, languorously fishing with one of the rods left behind by the Ministry renegades on their last little cruise. Ransey was down in the hold, fulfilling his promise to carry out a full inventory of their supplies. At the front of the boat Isaac was teaching Adam the basics of navigation. On the far deck at the back Joby was sitting on a pile of coiled rope, whilst Kieran squeezed pus out of his damaged feet with a hypodermic syringe.
"The things I do for you", said Kieran, from under his straw hat "Friendship knows no bounds sometimes. The least you could do in return is to stop sulking".
"I'm not", Joby exclaimed.
"You are. You've done nothing else since we left Gabriel's suite. What's the matter with you?"
"Well sometimes I just get fed up with being Joby Long that's all. General pillock, time-waster, complete clot, and to cap it all someone who endangers the lives of others".
"You mean like I did at Julian's house?" said Kieran "When I nearly let in that zombie 'cos I felt sorry for him? I think between us we score about level in the clot stakes".
"Yea, but somehow people forgive you quicker. It must help if you're cute".
"Everyone's forgiven you too".
"Everyone keeps making fun of me you mean. I'm tired of being pushed around. I want some respect".
"Why should you get it when the rest of us don't? You're always telling me I'm thick and puny and all the rest of it, but I don't sit there like the Queen of Sheba demanding deference".
"Adam thinks I'm stupid doesn't he?"
"Adam thinks most people are", Kieran sighed "He has a very high opinion of you actually, that's why he fancies you so much. I know all about it. He told me this morning. Says I'll have to forgive him if occasionally he gets the urge to bed you as well. And if anything he's far harder on me than he is on you. You just get threatened with being walloped, I get it for real".
"He thinks I can't take it that's why. He thinks I'm a wimp".
"No he doesn't. Anyway, you have to put up with being scolded occasionally. You're the baby of the family after all, particularly now Lonts isn't with us these days".
"That's something at least", Joby grunted "Don't think I could stomach him having forty fits all over the place, and panicking about everything. Imagine what a worry he'd be on this tub. We'd have to keep him tied up below deck all the time to stop him hurling himself overboard".
"I wonder where the hell we are", said Kieran, gazing out across the sea "There's even more ocean on this planet now than there was in our time. We could sail around for years and not come within sight of any land".
"We might discover a new world though, like Columbus".
"One with women in it?" Kieran laughed "That'd be perfect for you, wouldn't it?"
"I told you!" Joby cried "I'd rather have you anyday. I wish we could find some women, then I could prove it to you, because nothing else will. But then, why should you ever listen to me? No one else ever does!"
The weather was perfect all day, and the sun sank at dusk into a breathtaking display over the twilight sky. They all ate supper sitting scattered over the cabin-roof and the deck. Afterwards Adam called a meeting.
"The good news", said Adam "According to our friend the naffing accountant here, is that we have a very good supply of non-perishable stock. Tinned foods, biscuits, and most importantly, bar any accidents, fresh water".
"There's also some brandy", said Ransey.
"Purely for emergencies", said Adam "On my orders, as I've just democratically elected myself skipper. Anyone who touches that stuff without my say-so will be in serious trouble".
"I hope that includes you too", said Joby, sourly.
"Thank you Joby, yes that includes me too. What we cannot afford to do is waste fuel, which is a cause for concern as we have absolutely no idea where we are. Isaac informs me that, according to the ship's compass, we are heading in a general southerly direction, veering slightly towards the east. The good news about that is it's heading away from Gabriel. The bad news is we don't know what we're going into".
"What do the maps say is down there?" said Kieran.
"Not very much I'm afraid. More desert, a lot more desert in fact. Very few settlements of any major size, and absolutely none whatsoever below a certain longitude. Ransey thinks this may be because it is too hot, which if it is true will come as a particularly unpleasant surprise, but then it won't be the first one we've had on this trip".
"Other than that, just a heck of a lot of water?" said Kieran.
"Yes, and that's even more unnerving. But if we keep heading easterly we should come to land at some point, so we're on the right course in that sense. When we finally figure out where we are we can then start making plans again, but not until. First meeting over".
"You should really ask if we have any questions", said Ransey.
"I'm too tired for all that", said Adam, abruptly "Any questions will be dealt with tomorrow, whenever I wake up. First meeting over".
"Could we break open the brandy now, Ad?" said Joby "Just a small tot each".
"I don't think a night cap would do any harm", said Ransey "Particularly after all we've been through these past few days".
"Alright, you're very persuasive. I can tell you're a businessman. Just a tot each though".
Ransey fetched the bottle, and measures were poured for all except Adam. Joby, to everyone's surprise, suddenly refused.
"I notice when I suggest it you don't wanna know", he complained.
"Oh stop being so petulant, Joby!" Adam yelled, and stormed down into the cabin.
Isaac went over to Joby, who was now leaning over the back-rail, staring morosely out to sea.
"You look like a man with troubles on his mind", said Isaac "It sometimes helps to confide these things".
"What are you, ship's padre?" Joby snapped "Anyway, I'm alright. And I don't need a Holy Joe trying to get me into his confessional box. Leave me alone".
Isaac found Adam sitting on the edge of his bunk, staring into the depths of a cup of coffee. Isaac held out his glass of brandy to him.
"I don't really have the taste for it", he said "And I don't normally advocate alcohol as the cure to life's problems, but you look as though you could do with it".
"If only you knew what you were saying!" Adam laughed, bitterly "I don't drink, Isaac, not anymore".
"Oh I see. I'm sorry. I really came down to say that I'm concerned about Joby. It's fairly easy for me with my experience of commune life to tell when a man has inner problems, and it seems to me that Joby is going through some kind of personality crisis".
"Isaac", said Adam "Joby's entire life has been an ongoing personality crisis!"
"I don't think you're being very sympathetic if I may say so".
"No, you may not say so", Adam jumped to his feet, slopping drops of coffee over the carpet "I am aware that Joby has problems, after what Gabriel did to him at Mundaba Heights it is not terribly surprising. And I will try and help him, but I could do without some Brother Moses figure lecturing me on my shortcomings!"
"That brandy for me is it Isaac?" said Kieran, who had crept silently into the cabin "That's very generous of you".
Kieran took the glass off Isaac, who swept out of the cabin indignantly.
"That must be your third", said Adam, as Kieran sipped at the brandy "I notice you had Joby's too".
"Waste not want not. What were you getting all excited about anyway?"
"Oh I just get fed up with having to explain about my alcoholism to every new person I meet", said Adam "Sometimes I feel I should carry a bell around with me, and scream 'unclean! unclean!' Anyway, what is the matter with Joby, Pats? Can't you reach him at all?"
"God help me I've tried", said Kieran "He was so good with me when I had me little crisis in Gabriel's suite, and now I want to do the same with him, but he's closed himself off completely".
"Sometimes he reminds me of me. We're not as resilient as you", said Adam "He seems to have such a low opinion of himself at the moment".
"That's the nub of it. He blames himself for everything that happened at Mundaba Heights. You and I know that's crazy, but that's our Joby for us", Kieran drained his glass "So, there are four bunks in here. Me and Joby can double up, but who's the lucky bastard who gets the floor?"
"Isaac volunteered earlier", said Adam "With great missionary zeal. I wish we knew more about him. I keep changing my mind about him too often, and it's unsettling me. I either think he's St Francis of Assisi, or the Reverend Jim Jones. We're not seeing the entire picture of him, and there's something there I don't trust".
"These evangelical bods are always a bit like that. I often find they never seem quite real. As though there's a production line of 'em somewhere being reeled off. That they've usually got no sense of humour doesn't help".
Adam went to kiss Kieran, but was stalled by Hillyard erupting into the cabin, whilst peeling off his clothes.
"Evening boys!" he boomed.
"You're not coming to bed now?" Adam exclaimed, in dismay.
"Why not? It's as good a time as any. You two carry on though, don't mind me!"
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